If you’ve ever dealt with anxiety, you can probably attest to the physical symptoms that come along with these uncomfortable feelings. The physical manifestations of anxiety are different for everyone — you might feel pressure in your chest, pain or numbness in your limbs, or a persistent headache that lasts throughout the day. For some individuals, anxiety and acid reflux have a strong connection, sometimes worsening symptoms and other times triggering them.
In this post, we’ll take a look at GERD and anxiety symptoms, how they’re connected, why they’re different, and finally, how these conditions can be managed through medical treatment and home remedies. Read on for a comprehensive perspective on GERD and anxiety or use the links below to skip ahead to the section that best answers your query.
Before we jump into the connection between GERD and anxiety, let’s start with some brief definitions of GERD and anxiety.
GERD: GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a chronic form of acid reflux, typically categorized by symptoms that occur twice a week or more. Acid reflux happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) relaxes when it shouldn’t, allowing stomach acid and partially digested food to travel back into the esophagus, causing a burning or painful sensation in the chest and throat, also known as heartburn. Severe heartburn can be misinterpreted as a heart attack or other symptom associated with heart disease. When left untreated, stomach acid can permanently damage the lining of the esophagus.
Anxiety: According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is defined as an emotion characterized by tense, worried thoughts and physical changes like a temporary increase in blood pressure. Individuals that deal with generalized anxiety typically have recurring, worrisome thoughts and may experience physical symptoms such as trembling, sweating, dizziness, muscle tension, and rapid heartbeat.
What causes GERD?
GERD is caused by chronic acid reflux symptoms which occur when the LES muscle that separates your esophagus from your stomach relaxes when it shouldn’t. When the LES relaxes, stomach acid and partially digested food can flow back into your esophagus and cause heartburn, among other symptoms, including:
Excess saliva production
Acid reflux symptoms can be triggered and/or intensified by certain foods, lifestyle choices, and risk factors, including:
Spicy, acidic foods
Fatty or fried foods
Eating large meals right before bed
Using certain medications, like aspirin
Obesity and pregnancy, as both can apply extra pressure on the abdomen and force stomach contents into the esophagus
What causes anxiety?
The Mayo Clinic says the onset of temporary or chronic anxiety is often tied to risk factors such as:
Stress due to illness
Personality — some personality types are more likely to have challenges with anxiety than others
Other mental health issues, such as depression
Family members who also have symptoms of anxiety or mental health disorders
Drug or alcohol use
Now that we’ve defined both GERD and anxiety, let’s take a look at how these physiological and psychological conditions may be connected.
The Link Between GERD and Anxiety
As we discussed earlier on in this post, stress is one contributing factor that both GERD and anxiety have in common, but is there a deeper connection between the two? Possibly. Several studies have examined how GERD and anxiety are related, and researchers have found a few links that may suggest a correlation between patients with acid reflux and anxiety symptoms.
In one study, researchers took a look at how GERD patients’ general physical health and mental health were impacted by their condition. Although the connection was not fully realized, researchers did find a close correlation between the brain and the GI tract — the system that manages how your body digests food. As a result, researchers concluded that GI symptoms, like GERD, can influence an individual’s emotional status, especially when the individual does not respond to treatment, specifically acid reflux medication. Conversely, the study also found that anxiety and other psychological factors may intensify the physical symptoms of GI disorders, including GERD.
Another study published in 2018 further examined how GERD and NERD impact an individual’s mental health, including the manifestation of anxiety and depression, and how these psychological disorders can exacerbate symptoms of gastrointestinal disease. Researchers found that anxiety can directly promote acid reflux by reducing the pressure of the LES, which controls the movement of stomach acid, and by disrupting digestive function. Additionally, the study notes that anxiety can lead to hypochondriasis which can exaggerate physical symptoms, such as heartburn.
Can anxiety cause acid reflux?
Not exactly. While connections between gastrointestinal and psychological disorders have been forged over the years, anxiety does not directly cause acid reflux nor the chronic form of the disease, GERD. Ultimately, GERD and acid reflux are caused by a malfunctioning of the lower esophageal sphincter that allows stomach acid and undigested food particles to enter the esophagus. Symptoms that are associated with GERD and acid reflux, like chest pain, sore throat, and a burning sensation in the esophagus, can be exacerbated or triggered by stress and other risk factors.
Additionally, individuals with anxiety and depression may be more sensitive to reflux symptoms or experience them more intensely than those without psychological disorders. Vic Velanovich, MD, a gastrointestinal surgeon and researcher suggests that because anxiety can accelerate pain perception, it’s important for patients and doctors to consider physiological and psychological symptoms during initial evaluations and as they assess treatment options to follow.
Difference Between GERD and Anxiety Symptoms
While GERD and anxiety may have some connection in the context of how you might experience symptoms, it’s important to recognize the differences between these conditions, especially as you take charge of your personal wellness.
Now that we’ve covered the similarities and differences between GERD and anxiety, let’s take a look at how these conditions are treated in a medical context and using at-home remedies.
Medical treatment:Acid reflux medications and GERD surgery are the primary treatments used to reduce chronic acid reflux symptoms. When it comes to medication, patients have over-the-counter options with antacids, such as Mylanta, Tums, and Rolaids, as well as prescription medications, like PPIs and H-2 blockers.
Home remedies: Home remedies for GERD are often used in conjunction with surgery and medication, and can work to reduce symptoms on their own. Dietary changes, weight loss, avoiding tight clothing, and adjusting your sleeping posture are just a few examples of lifestyle treatments; there are also certain foods that can help acid reflux as well as quick remedies for heartburn relief.
Medical treatment:Therapy and medication are the most common medical treatments used for anxiety and depression. There are several subsets within each of these categories, so it’s a good idea to do your own research and talk with your doctor about different approaches before making a decision.
Home remedies: Natural remedies can be used in addition to standard treatments for anxiety, and to help temporarily quell symptoms when they arise. Some examples of home remedies for anxiety include:
Whether you’re dealing with GERD or anxiety, or both, it’s important to remember that every body responds to treatment differently. Talk to your doctor about a variety of treatment methods and make time to ask questions about how your physiological and psychological symptoms may be related, such as in the case of anxiety and acid reflux.
How MedCline’s Acid Reflux Relief System Addresses GERD Symptoms
MedCline’s Acid Reflux Relief System is clinically-proven to provide natural relief for patients dealing with symptoms of GERD and acid reflux. Our three-component system is constructed using the ideal posture for sleeping with acid reflux — on the left side and at an incline — recommended by doctors and proven by patients.
With MedCline's Reflux Relief System minimizing symptoms of nighttime GERD, you’ll not only experience a better night’s sleep, but you’ll also reduce your exposure to harmful stomach acid while you’re catching zzz’s.
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MedCline was founded in 2011 by Carl Melcher, M.D, who was a life-long sufferer of GERD. Dr. Melcher wanted to help the millions of GERD patients with a natural treatment alternative utilizing positional therapy. Since development, the Reflux Relief System has been validated in 7 clinical trials. Aiming to help other medical conditions with positional therapy, MedCline has also developed a Shoulder Relief System for those who suffer with chronic shoulder pain at night. Both MedCline Relief Systems are providing much-needed relief for those suffering from nocturnal acid reflux and/or nighttime shoulder pain to get quality, restorative sleep leading to a higher health-related quality of life.